Zsolt Durkó (1934–1997) studied composition with Ferenc Farkas at Liszt Academy Budapest between 1955 and 1961. As for his professor, the musical life and the flourishing contemporary music scene of Italy were a great inspiration in establishing his musical world. He had the opportunity to take part in the master-course of Goffredo Petrassi when he received a scholarship to the Accademia Santa Cecilia from 1961 to 1963. From 1971 to 1977 he taught 20th century composition at the Liszt Academy. His activity was honoured with several prizes: in 1971 he won the Koussevitzky Record Prize and in 1975 his oratorio Burial Prayer became the Distinguished Composition of the Year at the Paris Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs. He was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1978 and received the Bartók–Pásztory Award twice, in 1985 and in 1997. The Erkel Prize was also awarded him twice, in 1968 and in 1975. He became a Merited Artist in 1983 and a Distinguished Artist in 1987. From 1982 he worked as a classical music editor for the Hungarian Radio. In 1987 he founded the Hungarian Art Music Society of which he was president until 1997. In the years of the regime change he undertook definitive roles in the transformation of Hungarian musical life. The major festival of contemporary music, the Mini festival was linked to his name as the President of the Hungarian Art Music Society. In 1992 he became a member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts and of the Széchenyi Academy of Literature and Arts. From 1994 he was president of the World Federation of Hungarian Musicians and Dancers.
Durkó was a member of the “thirties” generation, representing an agegroup who did not directly experience the numbing effect of the closed artistic policy of the 1950s but had the freedom to find out about and pursue contemporary trends. Durkó’s musical idiom is characterized 2 Durkózsangkorrjav._Layout 1 2022. 07. 27. 13:21 Page 1 by aiming at the synthesis of tradition and the most recent pursuits. In his works there is a novel harmonious unity of the avant-garde, the inspiration of Hungarian folklore and even the musical material of Gregorian chant. At the beginning chamber music was in the centre of his output, but in the 1970s he turned emphatically towards vocal music. He composed the most momentous pieces of his oeuvre in this genre. Burial Prayer, composed in 1972 at the request of the capital for the 100th anniversary of the unification of Pest, Buda and Óbuda, became the best-known work of the author. His opera, Moses (1977), written on Madách’s drama with a libretto of his own, was a success both on the Hungarian and the German opera stages. His Széchenyi Oratorio, composed in 1981–1982 for the centenary of Kodály’s birth, is also worth mentioning, as well as the oratorio setting the drama of the Apocalipse to music, On the Margin of the Book of Revelation. Akkord Music Publishers offers an eclectic collection of chamber works and pedagogical compositions, selected mostly with practical concerns: works for smaller ensembles which are easier to perform. Among pieces for wind instruments is Flautocapriccio (1991) for solo flute which, true to its title, is a colourful, capricious work, offering a
chance for flautists to display their technical abilities and prove their musical imagination through unexpected changes of mood and juxtaposing opposing musical characters. Considering technique, the greatest challenge for the performer, apart from rapid scale passages 3 Durkózsangkorrjav._Layout 1 2022. 07. 27. 13:22 Page 2 interwoven with thick chromatics, is professional sound production and the immaculate realization of fast register changes. Musical thinking on a grand scale was of primary importance in the construction of the movement: tempo indications are not attached to actual metronome markings which gives the flow of music a fantasy-like freedom.
Résonances (1989) is a seven-movement trio for clarinet, basset horn and piano with poetic titles. Although the movements do not outline a ‘story’ that he could describe with words, they still mould into music the repercussions, the resonances of a tragic event. The piece was written for the memory of a couple of artists of the Hungarian Opera House: Zsuzsa Garam, the young répétiteur of the opera, died in a car accident and her partner, the baritone, Tamás Csurja followed her to death. The first movement (Équilibre) begins with the funeral music of the two wind instruments and gives primary importance to the minor second ‘sigh motive’ well-known from baroque musical symbolism. Although it is not programme music, the Molto meccanico sixth movement (Méchanisme automatique) conjures up the image of the car advancing mechanically towards the fatal destiny of its passenger. The emphatic independence of the parts in the lyrical movements is quite remarkable. Occasionally it is explicitly prescribed in the score (senza sincronità). The gesture of remembrance becomes most prominent in the dull bell-strokes of the third movement (Cloches). There are several pedagogical series among the publications. The fairytale titles of the seven-movement Dwarves and Giants (1974) indicate in advance that the series is intended for the youngest, attracting the imagination of piano-playing children. Lyrical, dramatic and epic tones alternate in the succession of various character sketches while the different messages are associated with the almost imperceptible practice of different manners of playing. The Little Drummer is a rhythm ex4 Durkózsangkorrjav._Layout 1 2022. 07. 27. 13:22 Page 3 ercise; with its lyric character Balaton Boat Song helps to acquire smooth, flexible legato-playing, Clusters makes the child acquainted with clusters played with the palm. Though not primarily pedagogical, some teaching objectives are also present in The History of the Spheres (1991), a series of over 60 pieces, which was compared by critics to Bartók’s Mikrokozmos and Kurtág’s Games as it summarizes the composer’s musical world. The altogether 61 pieces were originally distributed by the composer into five volumes of 11, 10, 13, 8, and 19 pieces. Akkord issued them in three volumes, retaining the original order and distribution. Thus Volume 1 contains Vols 1 and 2, the original 3 and 4 are in Volume 2, and Volume 3 comprises the original Vol. 5. The closing piece of the technically more and more challenging series, Idea augmentata, may find its proper place in the teaching material of high school music students. The opening piece, In the Sunshine, is suitable for higher grades in music school to make pupils acquainted with contemporary Hungarian music. And what can be the ‘Sphere’, the history of which is presented in the movements? Although it is not unequivocally clear, aiming at completeness probably
embraces the history of a whole world. We can find titles among the movements like Landini Sixth, Adonic Line, Mehr Licht, Chiaroscuro or Bartókian Melody. The composer reflects on the phenomena of the art and culture in them. The History of the Spheres has been performed by music students and concert artists alike. In 1991 well-known pianists played the material of the first four books. In 2014 music students in Győr from music school to college level performed the full series. The performers, however, do not need to undertake a full hour of music, since the pieces can be programmed in smaller series, according to tonality or character. A part of the cycle was recorded with the composer on his author’s CD. Zsolt’s son, Peter Durkó also performed some at the studio concert of the Hungarian Radio. Six Pieces for Guitar (1990) is based on a similar idea although on a smaller scale: the six pieces may be performed in succession or as single movements. The score contains a Foreword, in which Durkó, besides a brief analysis of the movements, gives advice for the performers on their musical realization. He points out that the melody is built up of broken harmonies and he finds it important to stress that the quality of sound and the character of legato playing should always be adjusted to these harmonies.
The title of the single-movement Quartina (1983) for piano refers to the pillars of the structure, the four-note motifs, which contain sections of three different forms of the twelve tones. They appear as lyrical gestures in the piece in sharp contrast with the broken, hectic musical surroundings.
Three English Songs (1991) were written for mezzosoprano voice and piano or orchestra – Akkord issued the piano version. The poems chosen were masterpieces of English literature, which Durkó approached not so much from the viewpoint of lyricism but rather as philosophical meditations. Wordsworth’s My heart leaps up is an intimate monologue, The sick rose by Blake conveys an agitated, confused state of mind, while the closing Ash Wednesday, on T. S. Eliot’s poem, is the utterance of a man looking for peace. The last song is definitely the focal point of the composition which is obvious even from its length: the first song takes three and a half minutes to perform, the second is somewhat longer than four minutes, the final song, however, lasts for almost 15 minutes, The piano plays not only an accompanying role, it is a partner of equal rank: each song begins with a longish piano prelude and in the first two songs it plays a co-ordinating, concerting role with the vocal part. In Ash Wednesday, however, symbolizing man’s ultimate isolation, Durkó gradually makes the piano part gentler: it is unable to follow the voice into the dimension where the lonesome soul ascends.
Written by Viktória Ozsvárt
translated by Péter Ittzés